By TOM SPEED
For more than 25 years this group from upstate New York have been sowing the land with a distinctive seed that combines elements of zydeco, country rock and reggae to formulate an intoxicating product that thrills the festival set all over the country.
Now on their tenth album, Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday, they show that they’re still as comfortable with the jam band crowd as they are appreciated by the Americana set. That’s probably because they’ve cultivated a strong sense of song craft that provide thematically thought-provoking topics, while also using their zydeco influence to whip up a hypnotic frenzy that keeps the hippies twirling to oblivion.
As usual, the songwriting duties are split pretty much down the middle—fiddle player Tara Nevins takes lead vocals and songwriting credit on six of the 14 tracks here, with guitarist Jeb Puryear nabbing the balance.
Like on her solo outing, 2011’s excellent Wood and Stone, Nevin’s tunes can sometimes tilt so far towards folksy, sing-songy fare you’re expecting somebody to break out the s’mores. But songs like “I See How You Are,” “One Day at A Time” and “Don’t Know What You’ve Got,” with their honeyed melodies, solid structure and efficient arrangements are fine even if they sometimes seem separate from the rest of the collection. Maybe there could’ve been another solo album in there.
But when she picks up her squeezebox, Donna The Buffalo becomes another animal entirely. On the hypnotic trance groove of “Why You Wanna Leave Me” the group extracts and ancient and intoxicating magic, drawing from a deep well that feeds both backwoods zydeco and hill country blues.
The funky “No Reason Why” also exudes zydeco flavor, juxtaposed with a country-jam guitar solo. And while Puryear can tend towards the sentimental too (see: “Real Love”), the best tunes out of his toolbox are the dance numbers too. “Ms. Parsley” takes on a full reggae bounce that is complemented by his understated voice with its sometimes Dylanesque whine. “Love Time,” too, incorporates a reggae groove before ratcheting up to a raving rock song.
They meet in the middle on several tunes, and that’s probably the soul of the band. On Nevin’s “I Love My Tribe” there’s enough bliss to go around with languid guitar solos and a swinging rhythmic bounce. The opening track, “All Aboard” is all infectious groove. The fiddle’s drone and the irresistible pulse obscure Puryear’s heavy topics of the state of mankind bringing you down, so much so that it takes a spoken word sermon-cum-diatribe to bring home the weight on his mind —a weight that’s lifted only by the power of music.
But it’s on “Working On That” where you see how all the pieces fit together– a sweeping one-world meditation on human nature, hippy dippy lyrics about “angels crying” and the downfall of mankind, basted with a groovy keyboard solo and a refrain about all god’s children coming together.
Sure, it’s a little Kum-Bah-Yah, but for 25 years their dedicated fans (they call themselves “the herd” heh-heh) have helped this band to cultivate this sound and the sentiments are real, and you can’t argue with that.
Ultimately, Donna The Buffalo is all these things: Americana roots rockers, hippy-dippy folkies and zydeco reggae groovers. If the collection sometimes seems patchwork, that’s because, well it is. But they’re working on that.
DOWNLOAD: Why You Wanna Leave Me, All Aboard, Working On That, Ms. Parsley